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I waved my arms and walked away from her before I said something I would regret.

Epilogue

He parked the car, got out, and looked at the house. A typical suburban home, a cookie-cutter traditional on a square of mowed grass. A dime a dozen in any subdivision. He walked to the door and tried the handle. Unlocked. Tom had said it would be.

He had left Thomas Waller with Daniela. By now Thomas was likely sedated. His teenage son had been arrested and charged with murder. His wife had disappeared. Then he’d gotten an email from her, and the contents of it had broken the last shreds of resolve Thomas had. His hands had been shaking when they’d spoken.

He walked through the house to the kitchen. A brand new laptop waited for him on the kitchen island, its box still nearby. Tom had followed the instructions in his wife’s email to the letter.

He checked the time. 6:59 p.m. He set his phone to record and placed it on the table behind him.

The clock on the screen blinked. 7:00 p.m. A blue icon flashed, indicating an incoming call. He tapped the icon.

Kelly Waller’s face filled the screen. “Hello, Connor.”

He hid his fury. “Why?” he asked.

“Because I hate you. I wanted you to know this. I hate you so much. If I could get my hands on you, I would grab you by the hair and I would hit your face into this island until it turned into a bloody mess. I would burn you. I would skewer you. I would vent my rage for days.”

That told him nothing. Ten years ago, when he had reached out to her through his mother and offered a college fund for Gavin, she had turned him down. She made it painfully obvious she wanted nothing that had the Rogan name attached to it. At the time he’d wondered if it was pride. Now he realized it had been hate, but he still didn’t understand it. “Why?”

“Because they loved you and praised you. Because you’re magic and I’m not, and I will never be good enough. I want to destroy you. I want to rip you apart with my hands, but I lack the strength, so I found some people who are a lot more powerful than me. I sacrificed my son for my revenge. But you failed me, Connor.”

Her face shook for a moment, distorted by anger. “We knew Adam was a loose cannon. We needed additional insurance, and who would be better than you. The Scourge. The Huracan. We knew there was a chance you would stop Adam but we counted on you destroying Houston in the process. You were doing it. I saw the buildings quake, and then you stopped. How is it you stopped, Connor? You could never stop your magic in the higher state, not since you were a child. Once you start the ascent, you continue until all of your power is exhausted. Not even your mother could reach you. What did you do? What happened? Is this some recent skill?”

He didn’t answer.

“How is it that between you and Adam, you couldn’t do such a simple thing? No matter. We counted on it, and you and Adam both disappointed us. We will find a different path.”

We. Us. Here it was, the secret force that drove this entire plan. She knew about it. All he had to do was find her and rip that knowledge out.

“I wanted to tell you this: you have no idea what’s coming. It’s big. You can’t stop it no matter how hard you try. It will undo you. When you lie dying and broken, I want you to remember this moment and my face. Remember me, Connor. This is only the beginning.”

The laptop went dark.

He stood, looking at it. A month ago he’d had no goals, only the minutiae of annoying tasks that had occupied, rather than challenged him. Now he had two.

He had to crush whoever was behind his cousin and Adam Pierce. He’d fought for this country and the safety of its people because he believed in it and in them. The system wasn’t perfect, but it was better than most of what he saw outside of it. This city belonged to him. They would realize soon enough what kind of enemy he made. That was his first goal. As to his second . . .

He closed his eyes for a lingering moment and conjured a memory. Nothing existed in the ascent. It was a place of magic and power, calm but completely empty. He entered it to access the apex of his power, but within it there was no joy and no sadness. No cold, no warmth, only serenity. It was a prison and a palace all in one.

And then he had felt her. She was warm and golden and she tore through the sterility of ascent and reached for him. She kissed him and as she shared all of her fears and wants, he felt alive. He had shrugged off the cold serenity for her, and the world around him bloomed. He felt like an addict who, after abusing a narcotic for years, somehow found himself sober, wandered through his house, opened the front door, and saw a beautiful spring day.

He wanted Nevada Baylor. He wanted her more than he had wanted anyone in a long, long time, and he would get her. She just didn’t realize it yet.

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